When Crime and Pornography Ruled Times Square

You always hear about how New York’s Times Square was more fun back in the good old days, when hookers and porno ruled, before America’s terror mayor Rudy G. “took back the streets” by banishing the Squeegee Men and welcoming Disney into the fold. And maybe it was. But more aptly, it was a different era. According to some cursory research, lax zoning regulations and a disinterested police force were factors for Times Square’s decline in the 1960s and 1970s, the reasons crime flourished and dirty minds thrived.

In an essay for the Institute for Justice titled “The Truth About Times Square,” William J. Stern, the former chairman and chief executive of New York State’s Urban Development Corporation under former governor Mario Cuomo, reveals behind-the-scene details regarding the redevelopment plans during that time. He details how Times Square went from porno slum to Disney theme park:

In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, Times Square was sleazy, crime-ridden and so physically and economically blighted it represented a threat to public safety—but today it is nearly crime free. It is filled with tourists, and world-class corporations dwell and prosper within its borders. It is celebrated as a triumph of “urban planning,” “public-private partnership,” the wise use of the power of eminent domain, an example of the intelligent intervention of government into private real estate markets.

All of it is a myth.

In 1983, when I went to work for Governor Mario Cuomo as chairman and chief executive of New York State’s Urban Development Corporation (UDC), I was convinced I knew how government planning could transform the Times Square I saw at that time to what it is today.  The truth is, however, almost none of the grandiose plans my colleagues and I created and aggressively spearheaded ever came to fruition.  Our extravagant plans actually retarded development.  The changes in Times Square occurred despite government, not because of it. (via Institute for Justice)

PS: This short film by Steve Seigel (below) captures Times Square of the 1980s, before its family-friendly transformation.

(Photograph: Sachs/Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Caption: Circus Circus and the peep shows of 1970s Times Square.)